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Paul Krugman | Europe’s Next Bad Idea: Bring in the Technocrats

What Europe calls technocrats aren’t people who know how the world works.

(Image: OLIVER; Austria/CartoonArts International/The New York Times Syndicate)

One of the ideas floating around in the aftermath of the sack of Athens has been that of, in effect, deposing the Syriza party from the outside and installing a “technocratic” government in Greece.

But let me note, as I have before, that what Europe calls technocrats aren’t people who know how the world works; they’re people who subscribe to the approved fantasies and never change their minds, no matter how badly wrong things go. Despite the overwhelming evidence that austerity has had exactly the dire effects that basic textbook macroeconomics said it would, technocrats cling to a belief in the confidence fairy.

Despite a striking lack of evidence that “structural reform” delivers much of a growth boost, especially in an economy suffering from a huge output gap, they continue to present structural reform – mainly in the form of disempowering workers – as a sovereign remedy for all ills. Despite a clear record of past failure, they continue to push for sales of Greek assets as a supposed answer to debt overhang.

In short, what Europe usually means by a technocrat is a Very Serious Person, someone distinguished by his faith in received orthodoxy, no matter the evidence. It’s as John Maynard Keynes wrote: “Worldly wisdom teaches that it is better for reputation to fail conventionally than to succeed unconventionally.”

And it looks as if there’s a lot more failing conventionally in Europe’s future.

Angry Germans

Jacob Soll, a professor at the University of Southern California, recently wrote an op-ed in The New York Times about the destructive anger he saw at a German conference on euro issues; I can second that observation.

You see, I’ve been getting a lot of mail from Germany lately, in a break from (or actually an addition to) my usual deluge of right-wing hate mail. I’m well aware that this is a highly distorted sample, since I’m only hearing from those angry enough and irrational enough to send such things – seriously, what do the writers expect to accomplish? Still, the content of the correspondence is striking.

Basically, the incoming missives take two forms:

  1. Obscenities, in both English and German.
  2. Bitter accusations of persecution, along the lines of “As a Jew you should know the dangers of demonizing a people.” Because criticizing a nation’s economic ideology is just like declaring its people subhuman.

Again, these are letter-writers, and hardly representative. But Germany’s sense of victimization does seem real, and it is a big problem for its neighbors.

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